Post-Brexit nerves in Higher Ed­u­ca­tion

Malta Independent - - LETTERS -

In my re­cent dis­cus­sions at the univer­sity on the sub­ject of the in­creas­ing links be­tween Malta and the Univer­sity of War­wick, I have be­come very aware of Post-Ref­er­en­dum, Pre-Brexit nerves.

This has brought to mind a 1961 satir­i­cal ar­ti­cle that I pub­lished in Tech­nowl­edge, a glossy mag­a­zine pub­lished by the (then) Univer­sity of Manch­ester Fac­ulty of Tech­nol­ogy, which later be­came UMIST.

Un­der the ti­tle “The Ex­pand­ing Univer­sity and the Com­mon Mar­ket – A Sign­post for the Fu­ture”, I as­sumed that the UK had be­come a Repub­lic, had with­drawn from the Com­mon­wealth and had lost its ex­port mar­kets. The gov­ern­ment had then de­cided to na­tion­alise the uni­ver­si­ties, to trans­fer all non-sci­en­tific cour­ses to spe­cially des­ig­nated “Col­leges of Ad­vanced Arts” and to mar­ket the univer­sity’s sci­en­tific and tech­no­log­i­cal cour­ses un­der the ban­ner “Univer­sity of Greater Bri­tain – Ed­u­cates the world”.

I sug­gested that the uni­ver­si­ties had been re-or­ga­nized, with each tak­ing care of a dif­fer­ent part of a course, thus in­tro­duc­ing ‘mod­u­lar­i­sa­tion’. For­eign stu­dents were re­cruited in bulk and, un­der a sys­tem of ‘stu­dent mo­bil­ity,’ were put on a ‘con­veyor belt sys­tem’ in batches of a thou­sand and spend­ing only as long as was nec­es­sary in each of the in­sti­tu­tions on the route. In this way, it was pos­si­ble “to pro­duce trained tech­nol­o­gists in half the time and at half the nor­mal cost”. If re­quired, “a fur­ther course would be pro­vided which was de­signed to con­vert a trained Tech­nol­o­gist into an ed­u­cated one”.

The in­ter­net was long in the fu­ture, but I had lec­tur­ers “trav­el­ling each day to the tele­vi­sion stu­dios where they gave their lec­tures”, which were recorded, shown in the lec­ture the­atres and kept for re-use. The stu­dents never saw a live lec­turer, al­though “ru­mours of­ten cir­cu­lated that the man at the back of the the­atre was the lec­turer, watch­ing his tel­ere­cord­ing”.

At that time, a “com­put­ing ma­chine” weighed many tons and was housed in a ded­i­cated build­ing, rather than in a lap­top case. Even so, I sug­gested that “The last month of each course was de­voted to in­te­gra­tion and cor­re­la­tion by an elec­tronic brain which had gone through the course with the stu­dent and noted any dis­crep­ancy, omis­sion or vari­a­tion from the syl­labus.” This would of course fa­cil­i­tate what we to­day call ‘val­i­da­tion’, ‘CATS ‘(credit ac­cu­mu­la­tion and trans­fer’) and the pro­duc­tion of an ‘aca­demic tran­script’.

This was sev­eral years be­fore Harold Wil­son had pro­posed the UK Open Univer­sity, and I wrote, “As the Univer­sity de­vel­oped and ex­panded, so it founded its tra­di­tions and grad­u­ally ma­tured, even­tu­ally be­com­ing ‘the largest and most highly re­spected in the world, ex­port­ing de­grees to all the cor­ners of the earth’.”

I con­cluded by writ­ing that “they who colonised the world are now ed­u­cat­ing it and the world is sa­ti­ated at the sum­mit of Bri­tain’s wisdom”, that “the ed­u­ca­tional Rev­o­lu­tion in Great Bri­tain is now com­plete” and that, “as the Min­is­ter for Ed­u­ca­tional Ex­ports and Tech­no­log­i­cal Ad­vance­ment de­clared; ‘Never in the field of hu­man ed­u­ca­tion was so much taught to so many by so few’.”

This was in 1961, at a time when the con­cepts of mod­u­lar cour­ses, ma­jor stu­dent mo­bil­ity, val­i­da­tion and aca­demic credit trans­fer were to­tally un­known and the UK just had Ox­ford and Cam­bridge and 21 other uni­ver­si­ties, all of high a stan­dard. To­day, of course, the UK has some­thing like 150 uni­ver­si­ties, many of du­bi­ous stan­dard, but re­cruit­ing stu­dents in bulk, of­ten from abroad, just to re­main vi­able.

As we move into our ‘Brexit New World’, it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how my pre­dic­tions pan out.

Dr Martin G. Spil­lane Univer­sity of War­wick Am­bas­sador for Malta Sliema

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